For the first time ever my Twitter Avatar is decorated by a twibbon, this particular one is in support of the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. Although only another 9,000 fellow twitter’s are doing the exactly same as I type, there are over 500,000 twibboned profiles of some sort, either in support of their favourite charity, their coffee, sports team or gadget.
The act of betwibboning my avatar, along with a post from Alan Patrick over at Broadstuff on freedom of speech and the 24 hour outrage mobs that were spawned in response to the very recent Trafigura Guardian gagging and the Daily Mail piece of the death of Stephen Gately, made me consider yet again the actual impact of online actions compared to offline. Which was then neatly echoed, in one of those weird coincidences of timing, in a retweet by Chris Brennan. All of which combined to remind that despite the supposed success of the online world beating back tyranny in real life, we shouldn’t overestimate the difference in impact between doing something online and offline.
Putting the pixel poppy on my picture took all of two seconds, it helped to remind me that I needed to buy one in real life but in the grand scheme of things for the Royal Legion it did bugger all. I doubt anyone who has seen my profile has been driven to add a poppy to their own, or that they jumped up and ran out to find their nearest poppy vendor that very instant. Or if not at that very moment, then later when they saw them being sold at the tube that one specific person’s twitter avatar, or indeed any, came to mind as they handed over their cash.
This is pretty much the reason why I haven’t previously added one, nor have I blacked out my avatar or made it a delightful shade of green, not because I don’t agree with the various causes that have suggested these moves but because it’s almost too easy to do and then forget that it has actually achieved diddly. From a marketer’s point of view, it’s also too difficult to measure. Yes, you can pop over to Twibbon and see the current numbers, but what about from previous campaigns? There’s also no way of measuring how many people did black out their avatars for New Zealand or Ireland, which makes it fairly ineffective as a campaigning tool.
I am sure the naysayers here will point to the record number of complaints to the PCC over the Jan Moir piece, to demonstrate that mass online (re)action does matter. Except there is nothing to say that Stephen Gatley’s family, or anyone else directly mentioned in the piece, would not have complained anyway. Yes, the PPC made them aware of the article off the back of the twitterstorm but if those directly involved don’t decide to complain, then all the PCC will write a letter to the Daily Mail before considering further action – not exactly a long lasting impact on a paper that saw it’s hit rate rise by around 20 percent off the back of that one article and no doubt will be slipping Jan Moir a nice Christmas bonus for driving that traffic.
I’m not actually having a go at just Twibbons here, well I am, but it is a neat symbolisation of the inactive activism that salves our busy modern life souls into thinking that we’ve done something meaningful when we haven’t. One could almost level the same criticism at those who buy charity ribbons and wrist bands, their saving grace is that the charity does actually get some cash in return, with a click on line they get nowt.
The sentiment of this entire post is much more eloquently and succinctly expressed in the following Tim Minchin video, one can only assume that he didn’t say I’ll give you a click to take away my guilt as it didn’t scan as well as the actual words.